Finalist, Advocacy Category
Steve Vilnit, Director of Fisheries Marketing at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, has been a tenacious advocate for local, sustainable seafood in Maryland. He has implemented several initiatives during his tenure that have expanded the market for various locally caught, responsibly harvested marine species and shifted the focus away from many strained fish stocks and imported products.
Steve’s hands-on campaign to promote the local yellow perch fishery increased the price of this undervalued fish from 80 cents per pound to between $2.50 and $5 per pound and helped generate a local market. Steve’s approach to combat the invasive Asian snakehead that now infests the Chesapeake bay combined identifying and legalizing the most effective harvesting method (bow and arrow!) for this hard-to catch fish. Fishers then began to catch up to 3,000-4,000 pounds per day, fostering a taste for the sushi-grade fish among the “invasivore” community by working with chefs and restaurants. Today, the fish, which at one time had zero value in the marketplace, sells for $7.50 as a whole fish and up to $28 per pound as a fillet. Catfish is another invasive fish in Maryland. Vilnit introduced distributors and restaurants to Blue Catfish as a local, fresh, and cheaper alternative to farmed catfish. The first year of the program sold about 10,000 pounds of fish. This year, the third of the promotion, the number is expected to climb to between 700,000 and 1 million pounds, selling at between 70 cents to $1 per pound.
About Steve Vilnit
Steve Vilnit is the Director of Fisheries Marketing at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, where he leads a team to help build economic viability for the State’s local fishing industry. He maintains close ties to the foodservice industry while working with the commercial watermen to better promote all of the sustainable fisheries that the Maryland waters have to offer. His strategy has been to shorten the supply chain and bring the chefs to the watermen to better appreciate the products that are harvested from the Chesapeake Bay waters.
- Twitter: @stevevilnit
- Website: www.MarylandSeafood.org